Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy

by David Fleming

Other authorsRob Hopkins (Foreword), Shaun Chamberlin (Author)
Paperback, 2016


Chelsea Green Publishing (2016), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


Surviving the Future is a story drawn from the fertile ground of the late David Fleming's extraordinary Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. That hardback consists of four hundred and four interlinked dictionary entries, inviting readers to choose their own path through its radical vision. Recognizing that Lean Logic's sheer size and unusual structure can be daunting, Fleming's long-time collaborator Shaun Chamberlin has selected and edited one of these potential narratives to create Surviving the Future. The content, rare insights, and uniquely enjoyable writing style remain Fleming's, but are presented here at a more accessible paperback-length and in conventional read-it-front-to-back format. The subtitle--Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy--hints at Fleming's vision. He believed that the market economy will not survive its inherent flaws beyond the early decades of this century, and that its failure will bring great challenges, but he did not dwell on this: "We know what we need to do. We need to build the sequel, to draw on inspiration which has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow." Surviving the Future lays out a compelling and powerfully different new economics for a post-growth world.  One that relies not on taut competitiveness and eternally increasing productivity--"putting the grim into reality"--but on the play, humor, conversation, and reciprocal obligations of a rich culture. Building on a remarkable breadth of intellectual and cultural heritage--from Keynes to Kumar, Homer to Huxley, Mumford to MacIntyre, Scruton to Shiva, Shakespeare to Schumacher--Fleming describes a world in which, as he says, "there will be time for music." This is the world that many of us want to live in, yet we are told it is idealistic and unrealistic. With an evident mastery of both economic theory and historical precedent, Fleming shows that it is not only desirable, but actually the only system with a realistic claim to longevity. With friendliness, humor, and charm, Surviving the Future plucks this vision out of our daydreams and shows us how to make it real.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member willszal
I just finished a brilliant book called “Surviving the Future” by David Fleming. A friend got me down this road when she left us her copy of “Lean Logic,” the daunting non-linear tome out of which this much briefer and narratively-approachable “Surviving the Future” was crafted by a
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young Transition Towns guy named Shaun Chamberlin, along with Chelsea Green.

It’s definitely my favorite book of 2016, and I recommend it to anyone whom is thinking of picking up a new book sometime soon.

The core tenant of the book is about the importance of the informal economy, and the richness of life we’ve lost in our morbid fascination with the market. By no means does David call for us to bring down capitalism; he is quite assured that it is already collapsing under its own weight [and actually holds some nostalgia for capitalism’s golden age]. Instead, as the title implies, he’s deeply concerned about the outlook of humanity over the next century, and lays out a convincing argument that speedily investing in informal [or gift] economics is our only chance of finding existence and meaning.

David outlines a stunningly practical and sweepingly broad set of frameworks. For example: the five varieties of truth: material [literal], narrative [story], implicit [reflective], performative [action], and self-denying [paradox]. Or his Adaptive Cycle, outlining the four stages of regeneration [exploitation, conservation, release, and reorganization]. Also, by no means does he underemphasize the importance of play: carnival is one of the fundamental pillars of informal economics.

There’s so much more I could say about the book, but I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the epilogue, “Mourning the Market:”

"The Great Transformation has already happened. It was the revolution in politics, economics and society that came with the market economy, and which hit its stride in Britain in the late eighteenth century. Most of human history had been bred, fed and watered by another sort of economy, but the market has replaced, as far as possible, the social capital of reciprocal obligation, loyalties, authority structures, cultures and traditions with exchange, price and the impersonal principles of economics.

Unfortunately, the critics of economics have a had a tendency to discuss the whole structure as a tissue of misconceptions. It is a critique that fails. The strength of economics is its considerable, if far from complete, understanding of the flows and comparative advantages that underlie trade, jobs, capital and incomes, and the logic of optimizing behavior, all backed by glittering accomplishments in mathematics. That makes it a powerful analytical instrument, so that just a few misconceptions — such as a failure to understand the formal economy or resource depletion — can have leverage: like a baby monkey at the controls of a Ferrari, they can turn it into an instrument with extraordinary destructive potential. If it were a tissue of errors, it would not be dangerous: it is its 90 percent brilliance which makes it so…

The market’s achievements and answers sound authoritative and final, but what is truly most significant about them is how naïve they are — if the flow of income fails, the powerfully-donning combination of money and self-interest will no longer be available on its present all-embracing scale, and perhaps not at all. And it must inevitably fail, as the market’s taut competitiveness demands ever increasing productivity and thus relies on the impossibility of perpetual growth.

In the meantime, the reduction of a society and culture to dependent on mathematical abstraction has infantalised a grown-up civilization and is well on the way to destroying it. Civilizations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm, in obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition, while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion. Every civilization has had its irrational but reassuring myth. Previous civilizations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it."

If you’re still looking for delicious morsels, you can reference my tweets on the book at [including a number of quotes]: @willszal #LeanLogic
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
Not a coherent argument in sight. Author thinks poetry is a valid substitute. He is very sure of what will happen without explaining in any useful detail why, how or when it will happen. At one point he uses a completely fallacious thought experiment to argue for a shorter work week and I was
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willing to let it go since he clearly is not a person partial to logic but then he uses that same argument multiple times to base his ideas on (I'm taking about the 100 people slowly replaced by robots argument). I find it hard to believe that at no point one of his friends pointed out to him that's not how the economy works.
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